“Becoming Nicole”

It’s been quite a while since I reviewed a book on this blog. That’s intentional. I have a big list of books (6-1/2 years worth) that I found worth reading on my site here.

I read so much that I literally ran out of time and energy trying to decide which books to suggest. So why am I suggesting this one?

Over the last several years I’ve become involved with members of the LGBTQ+ community in various ways. I’ve become good friends with some transgender individuals and have come to at least a minimal understanding of what they have gone through in helping their brains and bodies to agree.

But Becoming Nicole is one of the best books I’ve read (as a straight/cis person) to help understand what the journey is like for the whole family.

From the time she was at least 2 years old, Nicole knew that she was different from her identical twin brother. She couldn’t put words to the differences, but she knew they were there. Her parents and brother were supportive of her in her journey, but they also followed different paths. Her mother accepted her from the beginning and, although there wasn’t much information available to her at that time, she searched out what she could find and became a strong advocate for her daughter. Although her father loved and supported her, it took him longer to understand–but once he did, he also became a strong spokesperson for her. Her brother? He somehow simply knew from early on that he had a sister instead of a brother.

Each major section of this book opens with an explanation of the science behind sexual identity and gender identity…what scientists are coming to understand about how they develop and how they may not match. Sometimes trying to read that scientific information is challenging, but this book presents that material in language that a non-scientist can understand without a dictionary at hand!

If you have questions about what it means to be transgender…if you are curious about the journey of the entire family…if you would simply like to know more, then I would strongly suggest Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt. It’s not a “preachy” book, simply the story of a family who deeply love and care for their children and the challenges they faced as they helped them to be true to themselves.

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Making us great…

Over the last couple of years, we’ve heard a lot about “making America great again”…along with suggestions from some about how to do that. Many of those suggestions seem to look back to some undefined time when the world basically seemed to revolve around whoever is speaking. I’ve often heard it said that that “time” was when we were children–when we were not aware of the complexity of the challenges that surrounded us…

I’d like to suggest that rather than worrying about making America great (again), we might be better served by doing what we can to make humanity great. We’ve never really succeeded at that–and I think it’s because we’ve been too focused on (1) our own personal need / desire to be seen as “great” and (2) our need / desire to separate the world into “us” versus “them.”

So what would it take to make us (meaning humanity) great? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some suggestions and ideas (not presented in any particular order).

  1. Seek to understand. That comes from Stephen Covey. There’s more to the quote–“seek to understand before being seeking to be understood.” How do we do that? By listening…really listening. We were given two ears and one mouth for a purpose–and if we listened twice as much as we talk, we might make some good progress toward finding common ground. We all make our decisions based on our experiences, and until we try to understand someone else’s life experiences, we won’t be able to understand why they make the decisions they do.
  2. Recognize that we are stewards of the earth. We all live on this planet…we all depend on this ecosystem for our very existence. If the ecosystem fails, we will die. It’s that simple. We’ve already seen some species die out either because we hunted them to extinction or because they were unable to adapt to a changing climate. We need to take care of the earth, not just use it to death.
  3. Delight in the diversity of creation–animal, plant, and human. We seem to find it fairly easy to do that with animal and plant, but not so easily with human. We’re not all the same…we never will be. But there is so much to learn from each other, so much to enjoy when we are open.
  4. Be willing to understand the complexity of our human bodies. We used to think our bodies were simple, but they’re not. Our brains and bodies are complex…when they work together, things are good. But when they don’t agree, life gets really complicated! Our bodies don’t always reflect our gender identity or our sexual orientation…there is so much more to learn.
  5. Stop saying that it has to be either faith or science. They can complement each other. Science helps us understand the “how”; faith helps us understand the “why.”

Obviously there are a lot more ideas that could be added to this list, but if we make it too long, it would be overwhelming. And obviously I’m not giving a lot of specifics as to how to implement these ideas, because each of us can implement them in our own unique ways.

But maybe…just maybe…we can make humanity great. We have to…or we may find ourselves going the same way as the dodo bird.

 

God did it…

A number of years ago, there was a comedian (Flip Wilson) whose signature line was “The devil made me do it!” We laughed at him–sometimes ruefully–because I think many of us wished we could blame problems / bad choices on something / someone outside ourselves. For many of us, it wasn’t serious. Yes, we acknowledged that there is evil in the world, but many of us did not believe that there was a devil with horns and a pitchfork holding puppet strings on us and making us do bad things.

Fast forward to today…

Instead of “the devil made me do it” we are hearing far more often “God did it!” That statement is often in reference to our current president–that God put him in place.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that any more than I did “the devil made me do it.”

God didn’t create puppets. We are created with minds to use…to think and to make decisions ourselves. And we then face the consequences of those decisions.

Yes, God can–and does–use flawed human beings. There are plenty of stories about that in the Bible. Those names–David, Solomon, Samson, Jonah (and others)–are often held up as examples, and I believe they can be. Just not in the way many people like to use them. They were human beings who made some lousy choices. Despite those choices, when they were willing to allow God to use them, God could.

But did God put them in place? And make them make those decisions?

Nope.

No more than God is sitting somewhere “up there” looking down on us and deciding that this person should be president and that one should not. I believe that God works with us and tries to guide us into making wise choices…but not that God removes our freedom to make choices…or our living with the consequences of those choices.

“God did it…”? No. We did it (whatever “it” we are talking about)…and it would be wise of us to acknowledge our responsibility in creating the kind of world we are living in…and our responsibility for cleaning up the messes we have made.

This is my song…

I’ve had a lot to think about this last week. I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City. It was a wonderful week of music, classes, fellowship, and worship…some very powerful worship!

Since this is the 100th year since the end of World War I, many of the events of last week were connected and intertwined with that event. They were vivid reminders of the desire–and need–for peace in our world…and the difficulties we have in being peaceful.

Yes, the “great war” was 100 years ago, but so many of the feelings and events that led up to it sounded so contemporary…unfortunately. I was reminded of a line from the song that was popular during the Vietnam War–“When will we ever learn?”

Music in its many forms can challenge us. It can give us hope. It can call us to be better people…and help us focus on the better future that we all want. It can remind us that we are all children of one God–whatever name we call the Divine.

May we somehow learn to sing together these words so often set to the tune Finlandia:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation,
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting ev’ry wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

We need to talk…

In my family, the words “We need to talk…” tend to signal something serious–some kind of issue that needs to be dealt with…a clearing of the air. That’s not always true, but I have to admit that when I hear (or say) those words, my gut clenches a bit and I begin to wonder “Uh-oh…now what?”

So let me say them to you. “We need to talk…” I hope your gut doesn’t clench, but there are some issues we need to deal with…some air that needs to be cleared.

I am alarmed at much of the rhetoric I am seeing and hearing. We’re not talking with each other…we’re talking past each other–and we’re so focused on making sure that we get our say in, that our responses are well-crafted, that we’re not listening. That alarms me for our future–and for what our kids are learning from us.

I’m not saying that we can’t disagree. We can…and I think we must, because we need to hear a diversity of viewpoints. After all, we come from a variety of backgrounds…we’ve had very diverse experiences as we’ve grown up and as we’ve interacted with others. So why shouldn’t our viewpoints be different?

But somehow we need to be able to see that diversity as a strength. We have been blessed through the years with foods and words from different cultures…with stories and spiritual practices from different faith traditions…with knowledge that has been saved because past cultures thought it important.

Please hear what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting that we cannot / should not stand against injustice, division, hate. I believe we must. But we must do that in ways that are not hateful themselves. Is that difficult? You bet! But I believe that we have examples that we can follow that show it’s possible.

In the movie Gandhi, there’s a scene that makes me shudder when I think of it. Gandhi was leading a protest against the policy of forcing India to buy salt at high prices from England…he mobilized literally hundreds of people in a march to the sea to make salt–where they were met by English soldiers. They marched four abreast towards the sea…were clubbed down and carried away by those waiting to help…and the next group stepped forward. There seemed to be no end to the people who were willing to take a non-violent stand against injustice–and the policy was changed.

I also look at the pictures from the Civil Rights movement–when individuals marched peacefully in protest, meeting water cannons, snarling dogs, and words of hate. Eventually things changed–not as much as we would have hoped, but people began to think.

I hear people talking about the possibility (probability?) of a “soft” civil war–a war of words. Words are important–and the way we use them can either help lead us to finding ways of working together or they can lead to violence.

We can disagree on ways to reach goals…we can even at times disagree on what those goals should be. But what we shouldn’t disagree on is the need to see “the other” as human, as brother and sister…and the need to use our environment wisely so that all living things (human and otherwise) can do more than just survive but can have abundant life.

We need to talk…

Questions…and more questions…

I have struggled with trying to figure out how to say what I want to say, because I know some of the words I use will turn people off…will convince them that my mind is already made up…will be offensive to some. But I don’t know what other words to use. So I’m just asking you to please be willing to suspend your preconceptions of who I am and what you think I’m going to say…

Over the last few days I’ve heard and seen a lot of comments attacking parents who have crossed our borders illegally…asking how they could put their children in danger…suggesting that those who have been protesting the current administration’s policies don’t care about the children in the United States who are separated from their parents who are in the military or in jail…asking where the protestors over the last few administrations were when some of these same issues were a problem.

I can’t answer all of those questions. All I can do is share what I understand.

Right now I don’t really care who started the policy. I can spend a lot of breath in the blame game—but at the end of the day, families…and vulnerable children…are still hurting. My brothers and I sometimes got into arguments and—when our parents got tired—we pointed fingers at each other. “He started it.” “No, she did.” That wasn’t important to our folks. What WAS important was this: “It doesn’t matter who started it. It’s time to stop it.”

I do know there are children who are in foster care in this country because of choices their parents made or who are separated from the families because of military obligations. I know they hurt as well, and I wonder if we can’t find a better way to help them as well.

But what probably bothers me the most are the comments questioning the parenting of fathers and mothers who have made dangerous trips to try to get to this country with their children. “How could they risk their children’s lives?” I really struggle with this. It feels like those questions are coming from a position of privilege. I don’t mean that as an attack on anyone.

Let me try to phrase it a different way.

I’m a mother in a country whose government has no real control…whose officials are steeped in corruption. I cannot trust the police—they are controlled by the local gangs. My husband did his best to support us, but there is no real work unless you are part of the gang. He refused to go along with what they wanted, and one night he was attacked and killed. I know who did it, but even if I went to the police, nothing would happen because the gang pays the police to turn their backs. I’m afraid to go to the police, because when you do, you get killed as well—and then what will happen to my children? That happened to my neighbor.

I have four children—two girls and two boys. The boys are 4 and 6. They are good boys and I want them to have a good life. But the gang is already after them. They want them to be runners. If we refuse, they will kill the boys. That is what they do to tell others not to refuse. My girls are 9 and 11. They are beautiful girls, and that scares me. I cannot let them go out on their own, because if I do, they will probably not come home. The leader of the gang is demanding that I send them to him. I know what happens to girls who are taken by the gang. They are raped…again and again. And when they are no longer “useful,” they are killed. But if I tell him “no,” they will be killed.

There is no hope for us here. I cannot stay. I have heard of men who will help us get to a safer place, to a country where we can start again. It is expensive and will take everything I have. And it is dangerous…but it cannot be any more dangerous than it is to stay here. Perhaps my children and I will die on the journey. But we will die here if we stay.

I’ve never had to live like that. I can’t imagine what it is like. But I CAN understand the fears of that mother and her hope and desire for a better future for her children.

My heart aches for them—as it also aches for ALL families and children who are separated from each other, regardless of the cause.

But finger pointing and playing the blame game doesn’t help us get any closer to a solution. We have to listen to each other, because there ARE valid concerns being expressed. So how can we resolve the issues in ways that can hopefully help bring healing to situations that are so difficult to deal with? I’m not sure what the answers are.

One thing I do know, though. We are ALL human beings, people of worth…created, I believe, by the same God I worship, in the image of God. If I can see the image of the Divine in each person, maybe…just maybe…that’s where we can start trying to find answers.

Have we lost our souls?

I grew up understanding that I should live by the Golden Rule. In modern terminology, it might be expressed this way: “Treat others like you want to be treated.” When I was older, I realized that there is a version of that in all of the world’s major religions.

I also grew up with the understanding that love is the greatest commandment of all. “Love God with all your being…love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

And this…”Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

I also grew up reading (and in choir, singing) the last part of the poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty. But the entire poem is worth reading today:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And then I look around my country today…and the religion I have claimed…and I don’t recognize either of them.

Christianity–or what claims to be Christianity by so many people–seems so far removed from what I learned as a child. And my country–a place of freedom and hope, even if / when imperfectly expressed–now seems to have turned its back on the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

do recognize that there are problems that we need to deal with re: immigration. But to separate frightened children from their one source of comfort? and then issue directives to staff that they are not to physically comfort them? To tell parents who are fleeing violence and oppression that if they come into this country–whether illegally or legally seeking asylum–their children will be removed from them without them having a chance to explain what is going on (if they can even understand themselves what is happening)…and to tell them they don’t know if they will see their children again?

I used to wonder how good people could have done what many Nazis did. What happened to their consciences? Did they not have any empathy for those parents and children? How were they able to separate parents from children and then go home without a qualm to play with their own children?

I used to think that we would never be like that. But I’m afraid that I’m wrong.

My own faith tradition believes that God continues to speak to us today. When I go back to re-read some of that contemporary guidance, I am challenged and convicted.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

I pray that we will find our souls again before it is too late…for all of us.